God’s Purpose in Satan’s Plots

Paul Levy recently drew attention to William Green’s book on Job where he gives us 8 reasons for earthly troubles and calls them ‘disciplinary ends of the temptations of Satan.’
  1. They drive us to take refuge in God
  2. They train the believer in the duties and exercises of the Christian warfare
  3. They are made a means of intensifying our hatred for sin
  4. They can be an aid to self knowledge as unsuspected germs of evil are brought to light
  5. They afford the occasion to grace to develop itself in forms which otherwise it could not assume.
  6. They wean the heart from the love of this present world.
  7. Having been bravely and successfully resisted, they shall heighten future glory.
  8. They redound to the glory of God’s grace.
 ‘He (Satan) is labouring to undo the work of God, to defeat the atonement, to destroy souls whom Christ would save. But his machinations shall recoil upon himself. Do what he may, let him rage as he please, let him accomplish his worst, and he is after all only building up what in his blind fury and malice he is endeavouring to bring down”

William H Green, Conflict and Triumph: The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded, (Banner of Truth 1999, p23-31)

The Essence of the Christian Life

B.B. Warfield is a giant when it comes to 20th century Christian theology and has made contributions in many areas. Carl Trueman draws attention to a great paragraph from a book review that Warfield had published in which he describes as the “essence” of Christianity.

 It belongs to the very essence of the type of Christianity propagated by the Reformation that the believer should feel himself continuously unworthy of the grace by which he lives. At the center of this type of Christianity lies the contrast of sin and grace; and about this center everything else revolves. This is in large part the meaning of the emphasis put in this type of Christianity on justification by faith. It is its conviction that there is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only “when we believe.” It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in Christian behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest. There is never anything that we are or have or do that can take His place, or that can take a place along with Him. We are always unworthy, and all that we have or do of good is always of pure grace. Though blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, we are still in ourselves just “miserable sinners”: “miserable sinners” saved by grace to be sure, but “miserable sinners” still, deserving in ourselves nothing but everlasting wrath. That is the attitude which the Reformers took, and that is the attitude which the Protestant world has learned from the Reformers to take, toward the relation of believers to Christ.

Past and Future Grace

From John Piper:

“The biblical role of past grace–especially the cross–is to guarantee the certainty of future grace: ‘He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all [past grace], will he not also freely give us all things with him [future grace]?’ (Romans 8:32, RSV). Trusting in future grace is the enabling strength of our obedience.”

– taken from A Godward Life: 120 Daily Readings, p. 37.  

Persecuted Pastor in Iran

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has done a very dangerous thing. He has converted from Islam to Christ. This is dangerous because he lives in Iran where such a thing violates the law of the land. He has recieved a death sentence which has been delayed in the hope that he would recant his faith.

Matt Smethurst reports:

Nadarkhani is now approaching 900 days separated from his wife, his two sons, and his church. Nevertheless, God’s sustaining grace has enabled him to endure. In a poignant, Scripture-soaked letter to his congregation dated June 2, 2010, the imprisoned pastor, echoing the apostle Peter, wrote: “Therefore [the true believer] does not need to wonder for the fiery trial that has been set on for him as though it were something unusual, but it pleases him to participate in Christ’s suffering. Because the believer knows he will rejoice in [Christ’s] glory.”

Trevin Wax published the entirety of his faith-filled letter to his congregation. This is a great encouragement to them and to us to be faithful even when the Lord and his gospel are hated by the world around us. Jesus spoke of this reality and told his disciples not to be surprised when they experienced it. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you….If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18, 20).

Pray for God’s grace to this pastor, his family, and his church. Also, some believe that Pastor Nadarkhani’s sentence has been delayed due to international pressure.  For more information and an easy way to let Iranian officials know your perspective on this go here.

Scripture and Science Revisited

One of the biggest challenges to the faith of Christians today is found at the intersection of Scripture and science. I plan to specifically address a constellation of issues that arise at this intersection of ideas over the next couple of months. But at the moment I would like to draw your attention to a couple of resources.

First, Carl Trueman and Greg Beale from Westminster Theological Seminary address the topic of The Bible, Myths, Contradictions, and Inerrancy in a helpful interview.

Another brief but good resource can be found in this post by Kevin DeYoung: Ten Reasons to Believe In A Historical Adam.

Atonement: Particular Redemption

Often the extent of atonement has been a confusing question for Christians who otherwise generally appreciate the biblical teaching on the sovereignty of God in salvation. In light of this, I thought I would post some notes with a bit of commentary for folks to use as a guide to studying the issue for themselves. The notes are meant as a guide so they are not exhaustive, but I do attempt to point to a few of the key points that have to be considered.

Atonement: Particular Redemption

What is the Extent of the Atonement? A Biblical & Reformed View

 First, a God-centered, perspective-setting thought to lay the overarching groundwork for this study:

“What Christ acquired by this sacrifice is beyond description. For himself he acquired by it his entire exaltation, his resurrection (Eph. 1:20), his ascension to heaven (1 Pet. 3:22), his seating at the right hand of God (Eph. 1:20; Heb. 12:2), his elevation as head of the church (Eph. 1:22), the name that is above every name (Phil. 2:9-11), the glory of the mediator (John 17:5; Heb. 2:9), power over all things in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:22; 1 Cor. 15:24ff.), the final judgment (John 5:22, 27). In addition he acquired for his own, for humanity, for the world, an interminable series of blessings.” [1]

 Summary statement: The atonement of Christ has a covenantal design (as does his entire priestly ministry). In the covenant of redemption, a particular group of people was marked out by God to be saved by the Son.

 The covenantal design of the atonement:

  • Covenant of Redemption: (John 6:37-39, 44, 65; 10:26, 28-29; 15:16; 17:1-2, 6, 9, 19, 24)  – John’s Gospel teaches:
  1. In eternity past, the Father has given a certain group of people, out of the mass of humanity, to the Son to be saved.
  2. The Son reveals himself to, prays for, dies for, keeps and guards these people in a way that he does not do for those outside the elect of the covenant.
  3. All who the Father gives to the Son in eternity, will come to the Son in saving faith in time. “Whosoever” comes to the Son in faith, is welcomed and will be saved by the Son.

Various additional texts to consider:

Emphasis on the saving intent of the atonement:

  • Eph. 5:25-26
  • Acts 20:28
  • Luke 22:19-20
  • Exodus 28:17-21; 39:10-14 – “As Tom Ascol says, ‘Just as the high priest under the old covenant wore the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on his breastplate when he performed his sacrificial service, so our great High Priest under the new covenant had the names of His people inscribed on His heart as He offered up Himself as a sacrifice for their sins.’”[2] 

Emphasis on effectual nature of the atonement:

  • Hebrews 9:12
  • Rom. 8:32
  • John 10:11, 15; 15:13 – Christ dies for his sheep and some are not his sheep (John 10:26)
  • 2 Cor. 5:14; cf. Rom. 6:1-14

 Where does disagreement rise? What, if any, benefits are there for the non-elect in the atonement?

Emphasis on the extensive nature of the atonement:

  • Isaiah 53-5-6; Col. 1:19-20; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2; John 3:16

 In light of these texts, can we say that there is some sense in which Jesus died for the non-elect?

  • Every blessing that the non-elect receive is also on the basis of the atonement of Christ. Common grace extends to the non-elect in the form of family relationships, gainful employment, warmth of the sun, air in the lungs, any measure of heath or life, etc. The saving benefits of the atonement are limited to the elect. The innumerable benefits that the non-elect receive in this life do not include a new heart.

Points of agreement with evangelicals who hold to an unlimited or universal atonement: [3]

  1. Jesus’ atonement is infinitely valuable.
  2. There are benefits of the death of Christ for all people.
  3. Not all people will be saved.
  4. The atonement must be limited one way or another. “Either it is limited in its effects (Christ died for all, but not all get saved), or it is limited in its scope (Christ did not die for all, but all for whom he died will be saved).” [4]

Discussion of disagreement: How is the atonement limited?

  • Sufficient for all, efficient to atone for the sins of the elect:The atonement was adequate to atone for the sins of all people but only the elect have the saving benefits of the atonement applied to them.
    • “The Reformed said that Christ’s work by itself was completely sufficient for the atonement of the sins of the whole world so that, if he had wanted to save a smaller number, it [the number of people saved] could have been less, and if he had wanted to save a higher number, it [the atonement] would not have had to be greater.” [5]
    • Yet, “If God planned from eternity to save one portion of the human race and not another, which is what election affirms, then it is a contradiction to say that he sent his Son to die for those he had previously determined not to save in the same way that he sent his Son to die for those he had previously determined actually to save.” [6]

How does this relate to evangelism?

  • The evangelism of the Church is guaranteed to be successful: Those whom the Father planned to save, the Son died to save and the Spirit will effectively save. The evangelism of the Church will be fruitful.
  • All sinners can and should be welcomed to believe in Christ and receive the saving benefits of the atonement.
    • “The design of Christ’s death being to secure the salvation of his own people, incidentally to the accomplishment of that end, it comprehends the offer of that salvation freely and honestly to all men on the condition of their faith. No man is lost for the want of an atonement, or because there is any other barrier in the way of his salvation than his own most free and wicked will.”[7]

[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation In Christ, p. 339.

[2] Joel Beeke, Living For God’s Glory: An Introduction To Calvinism, p. 97.

[3] James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002, p. 115-16.

[4] Adapted from Boice and Ryken, p. 117.

[5] Herman Bavinck,Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation In Christ, p. 401.

[6] Boice and Ryken, p. 114.

[7] A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972, 419-20.

She Is Far More Precious Than Jewels

King Lemuel’s mother taught him wise words about the value of a godly wife. Before describing this admirable woman in detail, momma Lemuel said:

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (Prov. 31:10)

In other words, the value of this woman can’t even be estimated by the currency of the day. She is off the charts of the gold standard. If your mind has trouble wrapping itself around the huge monetary value of the U. S. national debt, just give it up when it comes to this gal. Her value…is inestimable.

But notice what follows verse 10. What follows is a frankly domestic description of this excellent woman. She is a homemaker par excellence. This will sound abrasive to those of us whose ears have been trained by modern feminist ideology. But this reaction is just a matter of upside-down priorities and unbiblical ambitions. And to be clear, whether a wife finds her calling to require work outside the home is not the issue. The Proverbs 31 woman did (Prov. 31:14, 16, 24).  Godly women in the New Testament did (1 Tim. 5:10). But even when this is the case, the tail shouldn’t wag the dog. A woman’s purpose in the home shouldn’t take a backseat to her pursuits outside of the home. 

Dorothy Patterson comments on this idea from Proverbs 31:

“The ideal woman in Proverbs 31:10-31 is clearly pouring her energies into her home, the management of her household, the rearing of her children, the helping of her husband. Whatever she does relating to property transactions or producing and selling merchandise is obviously secondary and related to the bartering common to that time.”[1]

And lest we think that Mrs. Patterson is merely suffering from too many reruns of Little House on the Prairie, we ought to remember that by wordly standards she is a rather accomplished woman as well. She is a graduate level professor, a successful author of both books and journal articles, a sought-after speaker, and the general editor of The Women’s Study Bible. Yet she happily describes herself primarily as “a homemaker” and this is the calling that “has always commanded her time, energy, and creativity.” So the old argument that “you just don’t know what joy and sense of fulfillment there are in wordly accomplishments” falls flat. May her tribe increase. And may the ladies reading this post be one of that tribe.

A recent post from the Gospel Coalition drives this point home well in a recent post, How Much Is a Homemaker Worth? Here is a snippet:

The Story: A study conducted by the financial service company Mint found that the sum value of different homemaking duties annually amounts to almost six figures. If a homemaker’s job were salaried, it would draw, on average, $96,291 per year. Tasks accounted for in the study included private chef, house cleaner, child care provider, driver, and laundry service provider.

[1] A Handbook For Minister’s Wives, p. 155.

The Dawning Age of Intolerance

D. A. Carson is coming out with a new book called The Intolerance of Tolerance. Carson is one of the sharpest minds in the evangelical world today. Anything he writes is worth reading but this is a topic that is of great importance for us today. Here is the publisher’s description:

 We live in a culture obsessed with the idea of “tolerance.” Any viewpoint must be accepted —unless it rejects other viewpoints — and whoever is most earnest wins. This idea of tolerance must be thoughtfully challenged, argues D. A. Carson, both for the good of the church and for the good of the broader culture. Otherwise, poorly defined tolerance drifts ironically toward true intolerance.

 Carson examines how the definition of tolerance has changed. It now has less to do with recognizing the right of another to disagree with us, and more to do with not saying that others are wrong. It is impossible to deploy this new tolerance consistently, so that actual practice is often whimsical and arbitrary. Worse, the word “tolerance” has almost become an absolute good, and “intolerance” an absolute bad. Tolerance and intolerance have become merely rhetorical terms of approval and disapproval.

 Despite many negatives about the new, often ethically silly definitions of tolerance, from a Christian perspective there have been gains as well. In fact, Carson says, the nature of the Christian revelation is such that some tension in our understanding and practice of tolerance is inevitable.

 In this extremely readable volume, Carson uses anecdotes and quotes to illustrate his points and ends with practical advice on exemplifying and promoting the virtue of civil civic discourse.

 Here is a clip to give you a foretaste of the things Carson addresses in the book in detail.

What Is Sanctification?

A bit of a discussion, turned into debate, has been ratcheting up in evangelical and Reformed circles over the last year or so regarding the doctrine of sanctification. Specifically, the confusion is over the doctrine of sanctification and its relationship to the doctrine of justification. This is happening at both the popular and the academic level. For those interested in the discussion at an academic level, listen to the discussion / debate between Michael Horton (Westminster Seminary, California) and Lane Tipton (Westminster Theological Seminary).

There are lots of issues involved in the current debate about sanctification and none of them are new. Some of the questions that arise are: How do we use the law? How do we preach the gospel? What is grace? What are God-honoring motivations for obedience? What does it mean to be Christ-centered / Gospel – centered? Can we expect people to make any real and marked spiritual progress in life? Many more questions could be added that are directly and indirectly involved in this discussion. And I certainly won’t answer all of those questions here.  But one important aspect of this debate can be highlighted in a couple quotes that are taken from Tullian Tchividjian in his book “Jesus + Nothing = Everything,” where it is claimed that “Sanctification is the daily hard work of going back to the reality of our justification” (p. 95). Again he says, “Sanctification is the hard work of giving up our efforts at self-justification” (p. 172). 

Left by itself, this is wrong.

And yet, these statements are only wrong because of one word… the word “the.” If I can put it this way, these statements are not wrong because they are something other than the truth. They are wrong because they are something less than the truth. Sanctification is more than “the art of getting used to your justification” “or “going back to your justification.”

Tullian says many good things in his book which awaken the Christian to fresh appreciations of the grace that is ours in the gospel. Amen to that! After all, it is quite true and critically important that Christians know that their sanctification is in Christ and from Christ, not in themselves or merely in their own works of trying harder to be godly (1 Cor. 1:30-31; Gal. 3:1-6).  It is also true that sanctification is entirely by grace. Our sanctification does not stand as a testimony to our own righteousness. It does truly stand as a testimony of the ongoing significance of what God has done for us in Christ.

But….there is something seriously defective with our understanding of sanctification if there is nothing added to this. Christians have now been joined to Christ and are therefore now living their lives as new creations (2 Cor. 5:17), who are now God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10), who bear fruits that are apparent to others (John 15:1-8, 16). This also is an evidence of God’s grace in our lives. A true understanding of grace recognizes with Scripture that “the grace of God has appeared…training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).

The popularity of Tchividjian’s book, however, points to the fact that the somewhat lopsided view of sanctification presented there is scratching people where they itch. I think this is true for a couple of reasons.

(1) It is true (and in many circles we don’t say it enough) that the gospel is necessary for our sanctification. We now stand in gospel “grace” (Rom. 5:1). We are to “grow in grace” (2 Pet. 3:18). We continue to come to the “throne of grace” to have our spiritual needs met (Heb. 4:16). We are still being saved by the gospel (1 Cor. 1:18). As Christians, we can heartily agree with the words of the Psalmist: “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Ps. 130:3-4). When we don’t hear this kind of thing, it leaves Christians with a dreary form of performance-based legalism that thirsts for grace (whether we know it or not). Trumpet the word of grace in a strictly law-soaked environment and many a happy saint you will see! May the church have no lack of preaching the cross and the imputed righteousness of Christ. And may thirsty saints continue to drink deeply at the same well of free grace apart from human works that we hold out to non-Christians (Is. 55:1-3). These are blessed benefits of our union with Christ.

(2) At the same time, itching ears often love to be told that there is no real hope that we will experience any genuine moral transformation over the course of our lives. And, it is quickly added, that should not cause us anxiety because grace is after all free, not based on our works. As Kevin DeYoung has commented, we hear about the liars and the thieves and the adulterers and the idolaters, and the greedy, and professing Christians say, “Oh, yeah, that is totally me, totally me!” What? Do we fail to realize that Scripture describes these people as those who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10)? If that description really sums up our moral state, then, according to Paul and the rest of the New Testament, it means we are not a Christian.

There definitely has to be some sense in which we are humble about the continuing presence of sin in our lives on this side of heaven. Hiding sins is the habit of hypocrites. If any man says he has no sin he is a liar (1 John 2:4). Confessing and forsaking sins is the habit of Christians (1 John 1:9). But we also must be able to say in a good conscience that “such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11). To be a “new creation” (Gal. 6:15) means we are no longer what we once were. As Christians, we first experience the definitive divine action of sanctification when we are regenerated and then we are progressively sanctified throughout our Christian lives (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 12:1-2).

Here is a big picture perspective. God’s grace to us in our union with Christ means that we are justified in Christ, adopted in Christ, and sanctified in Christ. Theologians have called these the forensic, the filial, and the transformative aspects of our salvation. All three of these categories are essential aspects of what God does in and for a Christian through their union with Christ. It seems that some today are downplaying the second two categories of what Christ does in our salvation, while they lift the first category of justification up to the heavens. When there is an unbalanced emphasis like this, it is not an example of Christ-centered or gospel centered preaching, no matter how much they talk about Christ or his cross. It does not promote Christ-centered or gospel-centered living to reduce the doctrine of salvation to justification. We must have full gospel preaching for the long-term happiness and holiness of the church.

This is actually a reoccurring discussion in the life of the church over the centuries. An important historical precedent for today’s debate can be seen in the Marrow Controversy of the 16th century. For background on that and helpful connections with today, check out Sinclair Ferguson’s 3-part sermon

Benefit Dinner For the Pregnancy Help Center of Dover

I love to see young people who are creative and ambitious in their desire to serve the Lord. One great example of this is a high school student who has decided to organize, promote and direct a benefit dinner with proceeds going to the Pregnancy Help Center of Dover.

The dinner is this Saturday at Sam Yoder’s Conference Center, from 5-9pm. The Facebook page can be found here. Tickets are $45 per couple and must be purchased in advance. These can be obtained by contacting either The Pregnancy Help Center at 302-698-9311 or contact 302-242-5423 for other ticket locations.


  • Sam Yoder’s Conference Center: 89 Hunting Quarter Road, Houston, Delaware
  •  Semi-formal to formal event for guests ages 16 and older
  • Special guest speakers and music will be a part …of the program
  • Dinner, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverages will be included in the ticket price. The following dinner will be served buffet style:
    – Your choice of stuffed chicken breast with white sauce or roast beef with gravy
    – Your choice of roasted herb potatoes or green beans and a dinner roll
    – Your choice of tea, lemonade, water, and/or coffee
    – Your choice of cake or cupcake for dessert